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The total return for Sun Life Financial (TSE:SLF) investors has risen faster than earnings growth over the last five years

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Generally speaking the aim of active stock picking is to find companies that provide returns that are superior to the market average. And the truth is, you can make significant gains if you buy good quality businesses at the right price. For example, long term Sun Life Financial Inc. (TSE:SLF) shareholders have enjoyed a 51% share price rise over the last half decade, well in excess of the market return of around 28% (not including dividends). On the other hand, the more recent gains haven't been so impressive, with shareholders gaining just 22% , including dividends .

While the stock has fallen 3.4% this week, it's worth focusing on the longer term and seeing if the stocks historical returns have been driven by the underlying fundamentals.

View our latest analysis for Sun Life Financial

There is no denying that markets are sometimes efficient, but prices do not always reflect underlying business performance. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.

Over half a decade, Sun Life Financial managed to grow its earnings per share at 11% a year. This EPS growth is higher than the 9% average annual increase in the share price. So one could conclude that the broader market has become more cautious towards the stock. This cautious sentiment is reflected in its (fairly low) P/E ratio of 11.17.

The graphic below depicts how EPS has changed over time (unveil the exact values by clicking on the image).

earnings-per-share-growth
earnings-per-share-growth

We like that insiders have been buying shares in the last twelve months. Having said that, most people consider earnings and revenue growth trends to be a more meaningful guide to the business. It might be well worthwhile taking a look at our free report on Sun Life Financial's earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). The TSR incorporates the value of any spin-offs or discounted capital raisings, along with any dividends, based on the assumption that the dividends are reinvested. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. As it happens, Sun Life Financial's TSR for the last 5 years was 82%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!

A Different Perspective

Sun Life Financial shareholders gained a total return of 22% during the year. Unfortunately this falls short of the market return. The silver lining is that the gain was actually better than the average annual return of 13% per year over five year. It is possible that returns will improve along with the business fundamentals. If you want to research this stock further, the data on insider buying is an obvious place to start. You can click here to see who has been buying shares - and the price they paid.

Sun Life Financial is not the only stock that insiders are buying. For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on CA exchanges.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.